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Drug crimes and federal prison demographics

Florida residents may be interested in a report from the Urban Institute that describes the breakdown of the 2012 federal prison population according to drug-related crime categories. The largest group were in prison for cocaine-related offenses. Between 1980 and 2012, the population in federal prisons grew by nearly 800 percent. Most of those prisoners were incarcerated for crimes related to the so-called "War on Drugs".

The Urban Institute analyzed prison data on nearly 200,000 prisoners and found that more than half were behind bars due to a drug offense. Nearly all federal drug offenders committed trafficking crimes, and 35 percent had minimal criminal histories prior to their sentencing. The Bureau of Justice Statistics states that 54.2 percent of incarcerated drug dealers were imprisoned for cocaine-related offense. Most of those prisoners were male and 76 percent were non-white.

The data was released one week after the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a criminal justice reform bill that would reduce many of the maximum sentences that critics claim have been leading to the increase in the prison population. The Justice Department has instituted reform that gives judges more leeway on sentencing. Changes to the criminal justice system have been significantly bipartisan and the prison population is expected to continually decline through 2023. The Urban Institute has also released further recommendations on reducing the prison population.

While criminal justice system reforms may eventually reduce the prison population, many first-time offenders still face prison sentences. A criminal law attorney may be able to provide assistance in building a strong criminal defense strategy. One such strategy may include focusing on the pursuit of drug rehabilitation rather than incarceration, which could mean requesting community service and rehabilitation services as opposed to a criminal sentence for someone with a minimal criminal record.

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